Jay Ashcroft accuses Missouri auditor of political attack over criticism in new report

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (Photo by Rudi Keller - Missouri Independent)
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(Missouri Independent) – An audit accusing his office of illegally withholding information and failing to document withdrawal from a national elections clearinghouse is a “deep state” political attack, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft told reporters Tuesday.

Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, who like Ashcroft is a Republican, responded to the accusations Tuesday afternoon, saying those who are the subject of a critical audit often complain about the outcome.

“They don’t like the findings,” he said. “The reality is, it was done according to standards. The term ‘deep state’ being used,  I thought was a little far out there.”

On Monday, Fitzpatrick issued an audit of Ashcroft’s office and gave his administration a “fair” rating, the second-lowest rating and a downgrade from a previous audit.  The reasons, Fitzpatrick said, were that Ashcroft illegally withheld documentation of cybersecurity checks for local election authorities.

“The law clearly provides our audit staff with the authority to receive and review this information, and it’s disappointing the Secretary of State’s Office stood in the way of our efforts to perform a thorough analysis of how the new cyber security reviews have been implemented,” Fitzpatrick said in a news release. “Going forward I hope the office, and all governmental entities, will follow the law and respect the duty we have to provide taxpayers with a better understanding of how government is operating and that their tax dollars are being used efficiently.”

The audit also said Ashcroft “refused” to provide reports from the elections clearinghouse known as the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which checks voter registration in several states.

At a news conference, Ashcroft accused Fitzpatrick of stepping outside his authority in seeking the cybersecurity information. Instead, Ashcroft said, Fitzpatrick is chasing headlines.

“These are political opinions under the guise of an audit report that are being put forth by an agency that doesn’t even understand the issues that they’re talking about,” Ashcroft said.

The audit comes as Ashcroft is trying to use his eight-year tenure in the secretary of state’s office as a springboard to the governorship. He is opposed in the GOP primary by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City and state Sen. Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring.

Fitzpatrick has not been endorsed in the GOP primary.

Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick speaks to reporters about a critical report of the Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday (Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent). 

In addition to questioning Fitzpatrick’s motives for the audit’s statements, Ashcroft also suggested he doesn’t have control of his staff in the auditor’s office.

“It’s understandable why the people of this country and the people of Missouri can think that’s just the deep state when things like this happen,” Ashcroft said.

Asked to clarify what he meant, Ashcroft added: “I don’t know how much the state auditor actually had to do with this. This audit, reasonably, we could expect that this was done by bureaucrats in his office.”

Fitzpatrick said the audit was originated under his predecessor, Democrat Nicole Galloway. He surmises it was launched because it had been seven years since the secretary of state’s office had been audited, and it was the only statewide office that hadn’t been audited in that time. 

He reviews all audits before they are released, Fitzpatrick said and stands behind the findings his staff uncovered.

In the audit, Fitzpatrick pointed to a 2022 elections bill as the source of the requirement for a cyber security review by the secretary of state’s office or a firm specializing in cyber security reviews once every 2 years.

“Because the (secretary of state) refused to cooperate, audit staff were unable to obtain sufficient evidence to evaluate the steps taken by the (secretary of state) to comply with the new state law,” Fitzpatrick’s release about the audit stated.

Ashcroft, however, said his office signed non-disclosure agreements with local election authorities and could not legally release the information.

“We were quite happy to go before the courts, to go before a judge, which is what you’re supposed to do when you have a disagreement about the law,” Ashcroft said. “Their office did not want to do that.”

In addition, Ashcroft noted that the law did not take effect until after the period covered by the audit, the two fiscal years ending June 30, 2022.

In the section of the audit about ERIC, Fitzpatrick said Aschcroft’s office failed to evaluate the benefits of membership in the organization that helps identify duplicate registrations and deceased voters. 

“The data shows during the five years the state was a member of ERIC, the (secretary of state) and local election authorities (LEAs) were provided information on over 770,000 potentially duplicate voter registration records and over 21,000 deceased voter registration records,” the audit news release stated. “Election administrators in Missouri’s largest election jurisdiction, St. Louis County, used ERIC reports to remove thousands of deceased voters from their voter rolls alone.”

Ashcroft, however, argued that the benefits of ERIC were outweighed by its partisan board and tilt. It wasn’t efficient for Missouri, he said, in part because only three of the eight neighboring states were members.

“It just wasn’t providing what it should,” Ashcroft said. “Frankly, it was a somewhat partisan organization. It’s not right to use taxpayer dollars for partisan purposes.”

Ashcroft said Fitzpatrick is making judgments about how the secretary of state’s office should operate without full knowledge.

“This isn’t about money disappearing,” Ashcroft said. “This isn’t about the books not adding up. This is a political judgment by the state auditor about something that he really doesn’t have expertise on about how Missouri should run its elections.”

Fitzpatrick said his office could have issued a subpoena to demand the records be turned over. But some of the information they sought was able to be obtained elsewhere. So the decision was made not to tie up the office’s resources in an extended legal fight.

He said there is nothing in the state law that gives the Secretary of State’s office or any state agency “the ability to not provide records to the office.”

“We routinely access records that are typically close and not publicly accessible as part of the audit,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s been that way for the 200 years that the office has been in existence, and the auditors who work on these audits swear an oath punishable by felony that they will not reveal these confidential documents to the public.”

This story was updated at 3:26 p.m. to include comments from Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick. 

(Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Photo by Rudi Keller – Missouri Independent)

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Rudi Keller


Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy, and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.